June 19, 2015
Most of us don’t really like the idea that we are somehow being spied upon while we are using the Internet. There is something vaguely sinister in the notion that what we are doing and where we are going is being monitored and what we see is being adjusted to take into account our behaviors and preferences.
However sinister we may find it, it’s happening all the time and will continue to do so unless you take steps to stop it.
To begin with, we need to be clear that there is nothing new in this.
For example, long before the advent of the Internet, the major supermarket chains were taking hours and hours of videotape watching exactly how customers in their stores were behaving. That included things such as which direction people turned when first entering into the supermarket, what aisles they looked at first, whether they appeared to be looking at shelves higher or lower up and the exact nature of the products they were buying.
All of the input was then carefully statistically analyzed by psychologists to produce data that supermarkets tried to exploit in order to increase their sales.
For example, the result of that is why you will typically see the more expensive branded products placed at face height on shelves while the cheaper brands are often on the bottom shelves where significant numbers of people never bother to look.
The Internet builds on this foundation
Just as the supermarkets love to see which shelves are visited in which sequence by different types of shoppers, such as male versus female or younger versus older, the Internet does the same.
Now you may be thinking that the Internet is an entirely anonymous place where your behaviors can never be tracked and monitored in this fashion. Yet if you think about it, deriving extremely useful marketing information from shoppers in a supermarket did not necessitate knowing exactly who they were.
In the same fashion, many individual websites and software products will do what they can to try to track your behaviors online.
They can typically do this because every device has what is called an IP address. There is no need here to go into an in-depth explanation other than to say that your device or your router can always be identified when it is connected to the Internet even if that in itself doesn’t tell anyone anything about you as an individual.
What it can do, though, is indicate when you are connected, you normally visit Internet sites of a certain type and when you are there, what you are looking at.
So, an individual website might be able to tell that a given IP address usually looks at things such as men’s fashions and car accessories. Ultimately, people can deduce from that your sex, your age, the type of car you drive and even things about your income level, hobbies and so on.
Organizations use that information to try to direct sales offers to you when visiting their sites that they believe will be pertinent and likely to catch your eye and gain your interest.
Some people don’t find this sort of behavioral analysis to be objectionable though others consider it to be a fundamental intrusion into their privacy.
If you are in the latter category, there are certain techniques and technologies that can be used to disguise your IP address and to ensure that you are truly anonymous on the Internet — at least to anyone other than the most sophisticated of institutions such as a law enforcement agency etc.
If you’d like to know more about such retention of privacy techniques, you should speak to a well-qualified computer support technician.
Good luck and remember that, at least to some extent, Big Brother is Watching You!
Vikas Sood is the CEO of Server Sentry which helps small businesses in Melbourne get the most out of their business.